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Waiting for God

Fr. Thomas Keating -   Sep 21, 2006

Abraham did not know where he was going when he was called by the Lord.

He is the paradigm of faith, especially contemplative faith that is willing to follow God's call into the unknown without knowing where it is going. In fact, that is the only way to go. As soon as we think we know where we are going, we are on the wrong road.

The Lord offers two parables in this text, both of which deal with the lack of certitude. In the first, the servant does not know when the master is coming back from the wedding. The second parable states that if the head of the house knew when the thief was coming, he would stay awake. These parables reinforce the idea that the spiritual journey is not programmed and cannot be computerized. You have to be willing to put up with the uncertainty, which means waiting, being on guard, and doing your job while you wait. These parables are ways of inveighing against our inveterate demand to know where we are going, what is going to happen, what the end of the journey is and if possible, the exact date on which transforming union will transpire.

Let us see if we can catch the twinkle in Jesus' eyes as he addresses these parables to his students. He says, "Let your belts be fastened around your waist and your lamps burning brightly and be like servants awaiting the master's return from a wedding." This teaching is about how we are to feel as we wait upon God in prayer. Jesus says, "Think of me as being at a wedding." He wants us to presume that he has a good reason for delaying his appearance and asks that we not indulge in complaints or hold his absence against him. The purpose of waiting is to be ready when he finally arrives so that we can open to him without delay and enjoy his presence.

Jesus goes on to say, "It will go well with those servants whom the master finds wide awake. I tell you he will put on an apron, seat them at table and proceed to wait on them." To paraphrase, "Friends, if you don't complain because I lingered so long at the party, you won't believe the service I will give you. I may come at midnight or just before the dawn. If you can hang on till then, you will see me emerging out of the darkness."

The Lord knows perfectly well that we, like the disciples at Lake Tiberias, have worked hard and caught nothing, and that all our efforts have been fruitless. Still we wait. When the dawn begins to show, the peace of Christ silently steals into our inmost being and overflows into all the senses.

Now Jesus shifts the image. Again notice the humor. "You know that if the head of the house knew when the thief was coming, he would not let him break into his house." Jesus represents himself as an unexpected intruder. This parable refers not just to physical death, but to all his unexpected intrusions into our lives that take us by surprise. Sometimes he comes when we are at our lowest ebb. All of a sudden, in the midst of anguish, anger, bitterness, lustful thoughts, and the feeling of abandonment, this incredibly loving presence appears as if to say, "Well, what is the matter with you? What are you belly-aching about? Because it got a little dark, you didn't see me. Be on guard, therefore, because the son of man will come when you least expect him."

When we least expect him is the darkest part of the night. It is not our pleas that bring the master back; he comes when he sees that we have completed our preparation. The pain of waiting is in proportion to the joy of resurrection. To those on the spiritual journey nothing happens that is not directed toward divine union if they only say "Yes."

If we can't say "Yes," we should just wait and not say anything. Then at least we won't say "No."

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